28 July 2008

I've Got Friends at High Tables

For anyone privileged enough to have witnessed one of my pre-Oxford meltdowns (special shout-outs go to Mom, Dad, and Kip especially), they know that of all the things to be afraid of at Oxford--crying babies on the flight over, customs problems, theft, people way smarter than me--I was most afraid of one dreaded evening;  High Table.  As if dining in the Great Hall at Christ Church isn't intimidating enough, most participants in the program are invited to dine for one night at High Table--a table literally higher than the others at the front of the room where the deans and other people you generally want to impress eat.  Formal dress is required, as well as impeccable etiquette and meeting for pre-dinner sherry.  

No, they don't provide a diaper for you as you wet yourself from nerves.

Taking all this into consideration, imagine my joy when I opened my information packet on the first day and found a lovely invitation saying, "The Directors of the Schools request the pleasure of your company at High Table on Sunday, 27 July.  Please assemble for sherry in the Hall 15 minutes before dinner."  Enter diaper here.  The first thing I did (other than to scrape my jaw off the ground) was to take out the dress I'd bought for the occasion and iron it, thinking that at least I'd be well pressed for the occasion, if not well versed in high-level theology.  

All of this is only to get to the point that at the end of the night, High Table went rather well.  Much to my happiness, we forewent pre-dinner sherry in favor of a program-wide reception in one of the gardens with champagne instead.  Conversation during dinner rarely shifted to theology (and was never over my head when it did) and everyone (professors and all) was agreeable and non-judgmental.  Even my etiquette was exemplary.  I must admit that my personal highlight of the evening was taking a walk after dinner to the corner just behind High Table to see the staircase.  It's alright as far as spiral staircases go, but I was interested in it for another reason--it was the inspiration for the rabbit's hole in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."  More on Christ Church's connections with fantasy literature in another post.... 

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